Akhenaten created a religious revolution. Something of a maverick pharaoh, he was a monotheist and worshiper of the sin god Aten. But, was he really an idealist, a reformer or a visonary or merely another megalomaniac? ….
He declared monotheism throughout the land. Even Akhenaten’s predecessors in the Eighteenth Dynasty, who had forged Egypt into a worldly, internationally minded power, had never assumed so awesome a stance. But, after a number of years, no more than a dozen at most, it all came to an abrupt end. Akhenaten died, we have no idea how, and Tutankhamon eventually succeeded and the clock was turned decisively back. Aten was forgotten, and Amon was dusted off and resumed his quondam sway. Eventually, about 1349 B.C., an army commander, Haremhab, took over the throne- he may have gained it by marrying into the royal family- and, during a long and vigorous reign, nearly wiped out the traces of these iconoclastic years.
This was the basic outline, but there has always been a temptation to go further and to make sense out of this strange interlude. James Henry Breasted was convinced that Akhenaten was a “god intoxicated man,” the true father of monotheism, whose prayers were a direct source of Hebrew psalmists. Marxists claimed he was a working man’s king, engaged in a class struggle; an idealistic pharaoh upholding the cause of those under the heel of the establishment.
One side of Akhenaten that has exercised a particular fascination has been the grotesque appearance he made his portraitists record so carefully. Was it pure mannerism on his part to have himself pictured that way? Or did he actually look like that? And, if so, what effect did it have on his ideals, on his chosen activities, since obviously no one of such a physique could possibly cast himself in the role of a conqueror like Thutmose III or a hunter and athlete like Amenhotep II. Doctors point out that there is a pituitary disorder called Frolich’s syndrome that produces symptoms remarkably similar to the features visible in Akhenaten’s portraits: distortion of the skull; excessive growth of the jaw; plumping out of the abdomen, buttocks and thighs; overly slender lower limbs; and infantile genitalia, at times so embedded in fat as to be invisible. This sounds convincing. That is, until we remember that victims of the ailment are impotent, whereas Akhenaten presumably fathered at least six daughters.
A few historians, determined to salvage the enticing medical explanation at any price, convinced themselves that, in the reliefs showing Akhenaten fondling his babes, the pharaoh doth protest too much; they suggest that his father, who was still collecting recruits for his harem when well on in years, may have solved his son’s embarrassing position by doing the sexual honors for him. Tobacco Road a la Egyptian.